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Kirkus Reviews ★ Starred Review

“Gently but poignantly, Collins’ richly hued, cartoon-style illustrations convey Aria’sdiscomfort, determination, and joy; family members’ and friends’ warm eyes and sympathetic faces are reassuring. Background characters bustle in a rainbow of jewel-toned clothing, their faces bearing a variety of expressions. Though Aria’s accident is unspecified in the simple primary text, an author’s note reveals that Aria’s story, partially based on Rahman’s childhood during Afghanistan’s civil war, honors Afghan children whose lives were changed forever by unexploded ordnance. Most characters’ complexions, including Aria’s, are varying shades of brown.

A timely, eye-opening portrait of resilience, community, and hope.”

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Seattle Book Review ★ Starred Review

“This is a touching and timely book that portrays the hardships many children in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries face. The author illustrates this beautifully and adds an informative and heartfelt “Author’s Note” that’ll leave a notable impression on young readers. He writes of attending a presentation in first grade in which Afghan students were taught to distinguish land mines from toys.

When youngsters read this, they’ll feel for Aria and her classmates, and they may even step away with an extraordinary feeling of gratitude. Additionally, they’ll be awed by Aria’s bravery and ingenuity. Those aged six to nine will be enlightened by this story.”

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Foreword Reviews

“Aria, a young girl in Afghanistan and an amputee, is nervous about going back to school. With all the benches being burned for warmth during the war, the girls in her school have no choice but to sit on the floor, which is unbearable for Aria and her “helper-leg.” Together with her mother and brother, Aria decides to build a bench herself, painting it skyblue: the color of “courage, peace and wisdom.” DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (November / December 2021)”

Quill & Quire

“Aria, an Afghani girl, is eager to return to school, but her new prosthetic “helper leg” makes sitting on the classroom floor far too uncomfortable. So Aria decides to build a bench for herself. Ontario-based Peggy Collins illustrates this heartwarming story about a resilient young girl who faces a barrier to her education.”

CBC Books

“In A Sky-Blue Bench, Bahram Rahman, author of The Library Bus, returns again to the setting of his homeland, Afghanistan, to reveal the resilience and resolve of young children — especially young girls — who face barriers to education. Illustrator Peggy Collins imbues Aria with an infectious spunkiness and grit that make her relatable even to readers with a very different school experience. An author’s note gently introduces an age-appropriate discussion of landmines and their impact on the lives of children in many nations, especially Afghanistan, which has the highest concentration of landmines of any country in the world.”

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Canadian Children’s Book News

“Aria, a young Afghan, is excited to return to the girls’ school following a long stay in hospital due to a land mine accident. Unfortunately, her new prosthetic “helper leg” makes sitting all day on the classroom floor extremely painful. The wooden benches and desks had been used as firewood during the war. Aria resolves to remedy her discomfort by building a bench herself. After collecting discarded wooden boards, broken pieces of furniture, and nails and screws from around the city, she seeks the advice of a carpenter, who kindly loans her some of his work tools and presents her with a can of sky-blue paint—the colour of courage, peace and wisdom. A weekend filled with construction follows. Aria’s classmates are so impressed that they too, wish to build additional benches, tables and even a bookshelf. “Aria thought about her can of sky-blue paint. There was still plenty left. ‘Yes,’ she said, with a smile as wide as the sky. ‘We can build everything we need, together!’”

Told from his personal experiences growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, Bahram Rahman has written a poignant story recognizing the resilience and determination of young children, particularly girls, living in war-torn countries. One admires the ingenuity and perseverance of Aria as she strives to improve the quality of life, not only for herself but also for her classmates. An age-appropriate Author’s Note briefly introduces readers to the danger of land mines.

Peggy Collin’ vivid artwork, created digitally, illustrates a way of life and school experience that will be unfamiliar to many young readers. Yet Aria’s courage, in the face of adversity, will resonate with children, no matter what their background, as will the significance of the colour blue, a symbol of hope.”

Metroland Toronto

“A Sky-Blue Bench is a narrative, picture book which tells the story of Aria, a young girl in Afghanistan, who due to her recent accident, is an amputee. Aria is excited to be going to school after her accident, but finds it difficult to adjust due to the pain in her leg. During the war, all of the benches had been burned to heat the residents’ homes and now everyone had to sit on the floor. Instead of giving up, Aria devises a plan to create her own bench and seeks the help of Kaka Najar, a carpenter…

A Sky-Blue Bench shares a valuable lesson of resilience and that children, specifically girls, can do anything that they put their minds to. This book also provides a simplified version of one lived experience of people living in Afghanistan. In the appendix are definitions of terms used in the book such as, “internally displaced” people, “landmines” and “unexploded ordnance” (UXO).”

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Youth Services Book Review

“How beautiful and heart-breaking to read this lovely picture book about a young girl, crippled from an UXO device, who finds a way to be comfortable at school by building her own bench. The ingenuity and determination of Afghani women and girls is explored as Aria finds that she can not sit comfortably on the floor of her all-girls school. After briefly considering not going back she decides she will build her own seating. Thus, with a little help from the local carpenter, Aria and her mother build and paint the sky-blue bench.”

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Bookishrealm (Goodreads)

“Wow! This was a powerful book. A Sky Blue focuses on a young Afghan girl, Aria, as she attempts to go back to school after receiving a prosthetic leg due to mine explosion. When Aria gets to school she’s extremely uncomfortable finding a way to sit during class because of her “helper leg.” Not only does the author address the danger that Afghan children face due to mines left all over the country, but they also weave discussions about the barriers that young Afghan girls and women face in relation to their education. Aria knows that unless she is able to build a bench to help her feel more comfortable in class she won’t have access to the tools she needs to learn how to read and write. The narrative was powerful and impactful and drew specifically on some experiences the author had growing up in Afghanistan.”

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Little Bookworm Club

“Aria a young girl from Afghanistan is returning to school after an accident that resulted in a prosthetic leg. She is nervous about returning and having to sit on the classroom floor all day. Her fears are confirmed when she finds it extremely difficult to get up and is very uncomfortable on the ground. She decides to make a bench, like the ones that were in schools before the war. Despite her classmates skepticism, she collects discarded wooden boards, visits a local carpenter, and gets to work. The carpenter gives her a can of sky blue paint that symbolizes courage and peace. When everyone returns after the weekend they see the bench and are in awe. All the girls want to learn to build too and they make a plan to build all the furniture for their classroom. This is inspiring story of resilience, determination, and grit.”

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Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“The world has heard much about the unexploded weapons that were hidden during armed conflicts in world communities. Aria is one of the Afghan children whose life was forever changed when she stepped on one of those devastating weapons….

“Sky-blue is for courage, peace and wisdom.”

Peggy Collins fills her spreads and endpapers (front and back) with digital artwork that reveals the emotions felt, the support of community, and the determination of a child to make a difference for herself and others as Aria navigates a new normal following such an overwhelming event in her life. An author’s note shares his experiences growing up in Afghanistan, and writes this story to honor those whose lives have been impacted by land mines and UXO.”

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Book Time

“In this author’s note, Rahman talks about how four decades of war in Afghanistan has left a country littered with land mines or unexploded ordnances (UXO), waiting for unsuspecting children. The author remembers being taught in Grade 1 how to differentiate between a toy and a bomb. How awful.

“A Sky-Blue Bench honours the resilience of Afghan children in the face of great personal loss and injury caused by land mines and UXO…She, like many other children in  Afghanistan, confronts life as it is and solves her problems with creativity and hard work. She won’t give up until life is better for her and the people are her.”

Beautiful story, beautiful lessons and beautiful illustrations by Peggy Collins.”

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Kirin (GoodReads)

“Aria has to find a way to sit in class because she wants to learn, and lack of wood working experience, resources, and doubt that a girl can do it from her classmates, isn’t going to stop her.  Over 32 pages, early elementary age children will meet a determined young girl as she pieces together scraps to build a bench.

Aria has been in the hospital for a while after an accident took her leg.  She is excited to be back at school, but quickly realizes it is hard to sit on the floor with her new helper leg.  She tries leaning on the wall, standing even, but just getting up and down off the floor is really difficult.  At home when she mentions it to her mom, her mom reassures her that she can get through it and her little brother offers to help her carry her things.

That night Aria considers how much she would miss school if she isn’t able to figure something out.  Then she has an idea, she’ll build a bench.  At school the next morning, classmates tell her “Girls don’t build benches,” but Aria responds, “I can do anything a boy can.””

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Israa (GoodReads)

“A strong girl with a prosthetic leg in Afghanistan does not let anything prevent her from going to school. I love her determination and ingenuity. The illustrations are colorful, and the text is easy for elementary students to read and understand. I will definitely recommend this book for our school library.”

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Storytime with Stephanie

“In another love letter to his home country of Afghanistan, Bahram Rahman gives readers the story of a courageous young girl who must build a bench to make school accessible for her and other children like her. A Sky-Blue Bench illustrated by Peggy Collins provides readers with a glimpse into life in Afghanistan and especially what it’s like for young girls trying to go to school and learn….

Readers will see the lengths that children must go to ensure a comfortable learning environment. We take for granted our tables and chairs and cozy carpeted areas in North American classrooms. Readers also gain perspective about physical disabilities, like Aria’s, that require prosthetic limbs and how limiting they can be at times. Readers will see the importance of accessible spaces for everyone. They can also learn more about the country of Afghanistan and why so many children there require “helper” limbs. The story is an example of strength and self advocating.

Peggy Collins’ illustrations are bold and bright. She gives us many close ups of people’s faces and the bright shining eyes of all the people in the story. This is a vibrant beautiful story filled with vibrant beautiful illustrations that will immediately grab the readers attention and hold it through to the end.”

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CanLit for Little Canadians

“Though Bahram Rahman makes it clear from his notes about circumstances he and others experienced in his homeland of Afghanistan, he does not dwell on the horrors of land mines or the challenges of living with a civil war. Instead Bahram Rahman speaks to a girl’s determination to get an education, be proactive and resourceful, and to challenge herself to meet her own needs. It’s a brave commentary on focusing on what you can change, not on what you can’t, and Aria demonstrates that the possibilities can be inspiring.

While there is a brightness and a child-like quality to her art, Peggy Collins (Harley the Hero, 2021) stays firmly in realism, but without immersing her art in the adversity of the situation. Aria’s prosthetic leg is barely visible under her black dress and the challenges of the civil war are obscured by the vibrancy of the community in its activity and colour. Peggy Collins takes us into the Afghanistan of Aria’s life, not of news reports: her school, her helper-leg, her mother and little brother, and her community. Her sky-blue bench is as assured as she is.

A Sky-Blue Bench may be a story from Afghanistan but its lessons about self-reliance and resourcefulness will speak to all children, especially those facing their own challenges, and encourage them to find solutions. With a desire, some hard work and a little wisdom, Aria was able to build something worthwhile, with wood and with vision.”

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“The illustrations in this one are simply charming. I also really like that there are a lot of ways that parents can use this book as intro conversations with their children. The book doesn’t go into any detail about why Aria has her “helper leg” or the inequities and barriers to education for girls in Afghanistan, but the illustrations and text give clues that parents can use to open the doors to these conversations should they desire. Or it can simply be read as a story of resiliency, community, and hope.

Note about disability rep: I really appreciated how this was addressed – the challenges that Aria faces as an amputee are shown honestly, her emotions and struggles depicted realistically but not in a way that showed her as helpless – she decided what she wanted, she solved her own problems. There was no “savior” for Aria here – she received help, but she was not treated as a fragile doll. She had agency and voice. More of this representation please.”

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